Freewheels Houston has provided bikes to people who are starting new chapters in their lives, making life better by enabling men, women and children to go to work, get to school, shop for their families and explore the city around them.
Responding to the surge of refugees arriving from Afghanistan as well as requests from agencies that work with veterans emerging from homelessness and youth from low-income families, Freewheels volunteers pitched in to deliver 453 bikes during 2022, a 138-percent increase from the previous year.
We give bikes to people almost every weekend during workdays at our shop in southwest Houston. Some come on their own; others come with case managers or volunteers who are helping them navigate their new lives in the city.
After the Taliban entered Kabul in the days before the withdrawal of U.S. troops in August, 2021, more evacuated Afghans resettled in Houston than any other U.S. city — in fact, Houston took in more of these families than 47 U.S. states — some 5,600 evacuated Afghans. Houston became home for about half of all Afghans who resettled in Texas, the Houston Chronicle reported.
When one refugee received a bike from Freewheels, many of his neighbors in apartment complexes in southwest Houston would reach out by phone or text message. All were looking for a way to look for a job, shop for their families or explore the city–even before they learned English or received authorization to work. Although Freewheels tries to focus volunteer efforts on bikes for teenagers and adults, we occasionally gave several bikes to several members of a large family.
In 2022, Freewheels gave bikes to 287 refugees. Almost all of them were from Afghanistan. We gave bikes to two Ukrainian refugees who wanted to accompany their daughter to school and explore the city.
Veterans emerging from homelessness
Houston’s “housing first” strategy to combat homelessness has been praised as a model for other cities to emulate. Many agencies have been involved in the effort to move people from the streets to housing. The New York Times reported that homeless veterans used to wait years for an apartment in Houston. Today, they wait 32 days.
People with the Department of Veterans Affairs and USVETS sent 44 people to Freewheels to get bikes in 2022. They use bikes to go to work and appointments at the VA hospital. We met a vet who used his Freewheels bike for a gig delivering meals for Uber Eats.
We also gave bikes to 49 people who were referred by SEARCH Homeless Services; the Harris Center’s Hospital to Home rehabilitation program; Career and Recovery Services, and other programs.
Klentzman Intermediate School and other Alief ISD campuses
Nearly 100 5th and 6th graders at Klentzman, Owens and Mata Intermediate Schools received bikes from Freewheels Houston during the 2022-2023 school year. Students were selected by school staff based on improved grades, superior attendance, achieving reading goals and other measures.
Volunteers and bike donations make the difference
There are plenty of people in Houston who need a way to get around the city. Freewheels Houston’s ability to make an impact in people’s lives will depend on donations of bikes and the participation of volunteers who want to help clean and repair bikes.